Astronomers find star material could be building block of life

January 23, 2019, Queen Mary, University of London
The Rho Ophiuchi star formation region with IRAS16293-2422 B circled. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

An organic molecule detected in the material from which a star forms could shed light on how life emerged on Earth, according to new research led by Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers report the first ever detection of glycolonitrile (HOCH2CN), a pre-biotic molecule which existed before the emergence of life, in a solar-type protostar known as IRAS16293-2422 B.

This warm and dense region contains at the earliest stage of their evolution surrounded by a cocoon of dust and gas—similar conditions to those when our Solar System formed.

Detecting pre-biotic in solar-type protostars enhances our understanding of how the solar system formed as it indicates that planets created around the star could begin their existence with a supply of the ingredients needed to make some form of life.

This finding, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, is a significant step forward for pre-biotic astrochemistry since glycolonitrile is recognised as a key precursor towards the formation of adenine, one of the nucleobases that form both DNA and RNA in living organisms.

IRAS16293-2422 B is a well-studied protostar in the constellation of Ophiuchus, in a region of star formation known as rho Ophiuchi, about 450 light-years from Earth.

The Rho Ophiuchi star formation region. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

The research was also carried out with the Centro de Astrobiología in Spain, INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri in Italy, the European Southern Observatory, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the USA.

Lead author Shaoshan Zeng, from Queen Mary University of London, said: "We have shown that this important pre-biotic molecule can be formed in the material from which and planets emerge, taking us a step closer to identifying the processes that may have led to the origin of life on Earth."

The researchers used data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile to uncover evidence for the presence of glycolonitrile in the material from which the star is forming—known as the interstellar medium.

Glycolonitrile Credit: Víctor M. Rivilla & Ben Mills & Herschel-SPIRE 500 microns

With the ALMA data, they were able to identify the chemical signatures of glycolonitrile and determine the conditions in which the molecule was found. They also followed this up by using chemical modelling to reproduce the observed data which allowed them to investigate the chemical processes that could help to understand the origin of this molecule.

This follows the earlier detection of methyl isocyanate in the same object by researchers from Queen Mary. Methyl isocyanate is what is known as an isomer of glycolonitrile—it is made up of the same atoms but in a slightly different arrangement, meaning it has different chemical properties.

Explore further: ALMA finds ingredient of life around infant Sun-like stars

More information: S Zeng et al, First detection of the pre-biotic molecule glycolonitrile (HOCH2CN) in the interstellar medium, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1093/mnrasl/slz002

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not rated yet Jan 23, 2019
Lol, no one knows when or where the emergence of life originated in the whole of the universe so that pretty much debunks the whole articles premise.
not rated yet Jan 23, 2019
so "water-seller", I'm uncertain whether or not you had made any effort to actually attempt to read the article or the papers it was based on?
Or just leaped to a foolish conclusion straight off the headline?
Cause of course pop-science headlines are never inaccurate hyperbole.... Right?

My conclusion based on your comments?
Or your comments based on a basic ignorance of the science involved?

Who should I believe?

There is chemistry,
there is pre-organic chemistry,
there is organic chemistry. & there is biology.

Which of these are you disputing?

It is generally opinionated that life may have originated within the first billion years after the planet Earth assembled.
There are claims that life began within a few hundred million years of the conglomeration. But I am still skeptical of those claims.

There is a maddenly obtuse overlap between pre-organic complexes & actual organic meta-complexity with self-replication.
not rated yet Jan 24, 2019
Lol, no one knows when or where the emergence of life originated in the whole of the universe so that pretty much debunks the whole articles premise.

So, do you dispute that life originated somewhere in space? ... How did you type your comment if you are not alive?
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2019
Lol, no one knows when or where the emergence of life originated in the whole of the universe so that pretty much debunks the whole articles premise.

Which part of the word 'could' in the heading of the article don't you understand?

While we may never know how exactly life on Earth got started we can do simulations on how it could have gotten started. Then, based on actual observation of how common the necessary building blocks are, we can get a good idea of how likely it is that life started in way X or way Y.

...which in turn can give us an idea how (un)common life is in the universe.
not rated yet Jan 24, 2019
a_p, I doubt that life began in space.
(i didn't use the "p" word!)

I will concede there is plenty of evidence, chemical activities up to pre-organic chemistry, are heavily distributed throughout the observed Universe.

I do think it still needs to be proven & verified, that the complexity of biology can be sustained, thrive & prevail in in the harsh environment off Earth.

Out of a dozen small. rocky planets in our own system? Only Earth is proven to date to be "It's Alive!" (cue Frankenschteen theme music)

There may be a plentiful supply of pre-organic chemicals everywhere. Doesn't mean that local conditions would certainly result in the development of biology.

- cont'd -
not rated yet Jan 24, 2019
- cont'd -

A speculative of what could of been our Solar System.

The conglomerating Earth planetoid consisted of an enormity of nickel-iron.
Those metals & associated elements such as the varieties of Phosphorous, are now the planetary core. Encased in a crust of lighter elements, since the Hadean.

Phosphorous found with iron-nickel space debris has been randomly raining down. Infusing the Earth's crust, for billions of years.

If our Solar System lacked nickel-iron asteroids since the Hadean Epoch?
The Earth's crust would be deprived of those Phosphorous elements.

& the Earth would be a lifeless water world.

Another possibility? The original chaotic planetesimal disk?
Sorted out an abundance of nickel-iron with extra phosphorous.

Depriving the other other planetesimals of sharing the bounty?

A possible explanation for the failures of Mars & Venus.

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